The Columbia University Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library has found a letter in its holdings from Colonel William Few (1748-1828), Revolutionary War officer, member of the Continental Congress, and Signer of the Constitution for Georgia.
The letter dated July 14, 1817 is addressed to Dr. William MacNeven, faculty member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, now Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. In it, Few complains that the expansion of the College’s building, then on Barclay St. near City Hall, threatened to obstruct his light – even then, evidently, a matter of concern to New Yorkers.
Few writes that he was “seriously apprehensive” that the expansion would block the light “which I have long enjoyd [sic] and find so necessary for my comfort & convenience…Would it not be better to contract your plan a little than to greatly injure a Neighbour?”
He goes on to warn that “I have consulted a lawyer on the subject” who assures him “the law will redress.” Furthermore, Few cautions the College “that if the practice of dissecting human bodies is carried on in such a manner as to be offensive to the Neighbourhood the Courts will take cognizance of it.” Though the minutes of the College’s Board of Trustees records the receipt of Few’s letter, no response appears to have survived. The building project was finished that year and the school remained on Barclay St. until it moved to Crosby St. in 1837.
Few was born in Maryland, moved to North Carolina as a child, and eventually settled in Georgia where he rose to be colonel in the state’s militia and one of its representatives in the Continental Congress. He was among Georgia’s four delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention and was one of only two of those delegates to actually sign the document. After the ratification of the Constitution, Few was chosen as one of Georgia’s first two U.S. senators.
Few moved to New York City in 1799 at the urging of his wife, a native New Yorker. He spent the rest of life in New York serving at various times as a state assemblyman, city alderman, and state inspector of prisoners. He was also an early president of what is now CitiBank.
The letter was found in a collection of miscellaneous College records and other correspondence called “The College of Physicians and Surgeons Manuscript Collection.” Because Few signed his letter “W. Few” rather than with his full name, the writer’s identity wasn’t realized when the collection was cataloged in the 1960s. A recent reappraisal and reorganization of the collection led to the discovery of the letter by Archives & Special Collections staff.